Democracy in Eritrea? Three generations away says President Isaias


Democracy in Eritrea? Three generations away says President Isaias

October 15, 2010

(MoFA Oct 15, 2010)-Last week, we commented briefly on President Isaias’ version of Eritrea and of his remarks to the cabinet that Eritrea had registered success in all areas of endeavor. He even claimed his government had succeeded in creating an excellent atmosphere for the media and for Eritrea’s justice system to flourish. Eritrea currently ranks at the bottom in almost all classifications of government relations with the media and in operation of its system of justice.

This week, in what appears to be another effort to sell his version of Eritrea, he makes the same points in an interview with a Swedish journalist. Once again, he stresses that Eritrea “does not want assistance” and he does not want Eritrea to be crippled like “so many countries in [Africa].” Oddly, despite his insistence on self-reliance, he is also prepared to admit to receiving assistance from the EU, though “not much”. It doesn’t seem to matter that the International Food Research Institute reported only this week that levels of hunger in Eritrea are now ranked as “extremely alarming.”.

Another of the topics raised during the interview relates to the UN imposed sanctions. As usual, President Isaias blames everything on the US and its servants. The interest of almost every country in the world when dealing with Eritrea is to promote a US agenda to destabilize Eritrea. The fact that Sweden complains about the imprisonment of one of its nationals, a journalist, for years without charge or trial or any process of law, is defined as part of Sweden’s efforts to do the US bidding in America’s crusade against the Eritrean government. The UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea because the US “hopes that Ethiopia will be able to benefit from Eritrea getting punished.” In what then appears to be an attempt to claim some sort of solidarity with other alleged “victims” of US policies, real or imagined, President Isaias then adds that the US doesn’t necessarily have any particular interest against Eritrea. It is merely part of a wider US agenda “for Africa, the Middle East, Oil and so on.”

President Isaias argues that any suggestion that Eritrea is isolated is no more than a fiction peddled by - the US government and “many US lobby groups” because Eritrea doesn’t take their orders. The evidence for this can be seen in the fact that more Eritreans than ever have spent their holidays in Eritrea this summer. Isolation appears to be more about Eritreans on holiday than having a mutually beneficial relationship with the international community, or indeed about the numbers of Eritreans who leave annually, fleeing across the border into Sudan or Ethiopia. President Isaias is carefully circumspect about the possibility of improving relations with other countries though he offers some sort of pseudo-philosophical explanation of relationships in general. In this context, President Isaias provided his own method to resolve the Middle East crisis, something he says the US will never be able to do. He claims no so-called ‘two-state’ solution will work and the only option is for Palestinians to become part of what he calls Trans-Jordan. He has been offering his advice to all stakeholders, but to no avail. Interestingly, his comments explain a lot about the way he conducts diplomacy and the haphazard way he makes or breaks relations. Eritrea does not recognize the state of Palestine apparently because the former Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, used to have relations with Ethiopia under Mengistu; and revealingly, President Isaias also admits he quarreled with Arafat on a few occasions.

During the interview, President Isaias also adds a few additional remarks on his vision for Eritrea. It is no longer the old idea of likening Eritrea to Singapore. That dream has long since been shattered. Now that there is talk about mineral finds in Eritrea, he would prefer Eritrea to be “like Norway”, a country where the resources will be used without putting future generations at risk – “using resources responsibly” as he puts it, and certainly it would be difficult to disagree with such a sentiment. In this context, however, he is emphasizing that Eritreans should believe that tomorrow will have so much to offer that they should not worry about the current lack of democracy or good governance or indeed the prevalence of hunger. Indeed, he once again reaffirmed his commitment to postponing any semblance of democracy for the people of Eritrea. Eritrea, he said, is in the process of nation-building and it is impossible to see how the idea of democracy can be readily applied in the foreseeable future – or to be more specific, not before another three generations have passed!

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